16 November 2015
UN Statistical Commission Updates Member States on Indicator Development
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The UN Statistical Commission briefed UN Member States on the development of global indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets, following the second meeting of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs).

unstats5 November 2015: The UN Statistical Commission briefed UN Member States on the development of global indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets, following the second meeting of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs).

Opening the briefing on 5 November 2015, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Mogens Lykketoft noted that the IAEG-SDGs’ work must: be open, inclusive and transparent; address all SDGs and their targets, including those on means of implementation (MOI); and preserve the Goal-set’s political balance, integration and ambition. He also recalled that the 2030 Agenda decided that the UNSC will adopt the IAEG’s recommendations at its 47th session, convening in March 2016, and the proposal then will be taken up by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UNGA.

John Pullinger, UNSC Chair, confirmed that the Group is on track to develop a comprehensive set of indicators according to the schedule set with the UNGA, and that the process has been open, inclusive and transparent. Reviewing the IAEG’s work to date, he said it has conducted extensive consultations, including through an online platform for members and observers on two “discussion streams”: the conceptual framework on indicator concepts and definitions; and linkages across Goals and targets. He also noted a consultation on proposed indicators that took place in early September. The consultations yielded a wealth of proposals for review at the IAEG-SDGs’ second meeting, he said, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 26-28 October 2015. IAEG-SDGs 2 included over 220 participants, including 24 of the 28 member governments, and 200 observers (governments who are not IAEG members, international organizations, UN regional commissions, civil society, academics and the private sector). He said the meeting produced consensus on the large majority of the proposed indicators, as well as the next steps in the process.

Of the 225 indicators being considered, 160 have been coded as “green,” which Pullinger said reflects that no serious concerns have been expressed by members, and there is sufficient clarify on how they will be implemented. While “green” status means Group members have reached consensus on the indicator, that does not mean it has “methodological maturity,” and in many cases further work is needed. He said the Group will be transparent about the state of each indicator’s development, “so everyone can focus on the gaps to be filled.” In this regard, he outlined three tiers currently being applied to each indicator: 1) an established methodology exists, and the data is widely available; 2) the methodology exists, but not the data; and 3) there is neither methodology nor data. It was also noted that there is an opportunity to comment on the “green” indicators, in an online consultation taking place from 4-7 November.

Another 65 proposed indicators have been coded as “gray,” Pullinger reported, meaning that the Group does not yet have technical consensus, and several methodological and conceptual issues remain to be clarified. More research is needed to determine their formulation, and the Group will seek input from relevant agencies. Pullinger added that many of the “gray” indicators are likely to remain gray in the Group’s report to the UNSC. Francesca Perucci, UN Statistical Division, said most of the methodological issues can be resolved before the UNSC meeting. According to the work plan agreed in Bangkok, the Group will address the gray-marked indicators in December 2015 and January and early February 2016.

Finally, Pullinger said that, while the Group is required to produce a proper proposal for the UNSC in March, it is likely to take the form of “Indicators 1.0,” and the IEAG could continue to operate, providing technical advice as long as necessary. The UNSC proposal “may well be just the start of interacting between the technical and political processes, so we get it right,” he said. He also noted that all countries still need to build the capacity to produce the necessary to inform the global and national indicators.

In the exchange with Member States, Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya and Colombia expressed their expectations of political oversight for the IEAG-SDGs’ work. Brazil said the Group must report to the UNGA, noted the “delicate balance between technical consistency and political coherence” with the 2030 Agenda, and stressed that the indicators must not reinterpret the targets or reduce their scope. In this regard, he said civil society comments should be taken into account. Pullinger responded that their mandate is clear regarding preserving the scope of the SDGs, and that the process is indeed very inclusive and transparent. Echoing the importance of political oversight for the process, Nigeria called for respecting countries’ policy space. Kenya said that even as the statistical, technical process makes progress, it must share information, possibly including a set of indicators. He suggested that, ahead of future briefings, Member States should receive an outcome on which they can consult among themselves. Pullinger “endorsed” the need for political oversight, noting that once the UNSC receives the technical proposal it will proceed to ECOSOC for adoption. Perucci noted that National Statistical Offices (NSOs) have full access to the information on what has been discussed.

Colombia requested more interaction with ECOSOC, and suggested that the UN’s regional economic commissions could support the remaining process, before the indicators are finalized. Pullinger responded that the process is primarily a technical one, with political input, until March, at which point the technical proposal comes before ECOSOC for consideration.

On specific targets and indicators of concern, Brazil said the World Bank’s revised poverty line does not account for all countries’ methodological concerns, and the 2030 Agenda should not automatically incorporate the Bank’s decision, with regard to SDG 1. Pullinger said that the IAEG’s job is to find an indicator for eradication of extreme poverty as measured as $1.25/day, as stated in target 1.1. He added that concerns can be flagged on indicators until 20 November.

Nigeria noted that reservations were expressed on targets 5.6 and 3.7 and asked about the way forward. Also on target 5.6, the Holy See said its proposed indicators were coded as “green” before the meeting in Bangkok even began, noting that there are remaining concerns on this target. Pullinger said the Group recognizes particular sensitivity on these two targets, and that its job is not to reinterpret their careful wording, but to “translate it faithfully into an indicator that will command respect.” He expressed readiness to reflect additional comments and concerns in the report to the UNSC, calling these targets an example of where interaction between the technical and political process is very necessary.

In other comments, Brazil cautioned against rushing the process to meet the deadline of reporting to UNSC 47 in March 2016, and Kenya stressed the need to get the indicators right, as they are “truly where the rubber meets the road in implementing the 2030 Agenda.” Kenya also reiterated the importance of an inclusive, open and transparent process, and said the process seems to have been conducted in this manner, so far.

Perucci also noted that, at first, the number of indicators was “more conservative” – the initial proposal on possible indicators contained approximately 100 indicators – but the Group quickly realized that, given the level of ambition of the SDGs, more than one indicator per target would be needed. There are currently 225 proposed indicators. [IISD RS Sources] [UNGA President Remarks] [Meeting Webcast] [IISD RS Story on IAEG-SDGs’ Work Plan] [IISD RS Story on Consultation on Green Indicators]

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